"Best Practices Are Nothing But Polled Ignorance"

I wish I could say that I was the first one to say that, but I wasn't.  Last week, I attended the MECLABS Landing Page Optimization Summit in Denver, CO and one of the first things I wrote down was that quote from my mentor Dr. Flint McGlaughlin.  Flint went on to say that the marketer must be the philosopher of an organization.  Philosophers are constantly consumed with the question of "why."  This proves to be a difficult challenge when we face the perpetual barrage of questions that begin with "how."

How can I get this done in time?
How can I make my subject line more effective?
How can I increase my revenue?

Most marketers are too busy asking the questions that begin with "how" that they fail to ever ask the more important questions that begin with "why."

Why did this perform better than that?
Why do my customers/donors prefer this type of content over that type of content?
Why doesn't my landing page convert more people into customers/donors?

But it is precisely the "why" questions that lead to wisdom.  I recently performed an experiment that challenged a longstanding direct response best practice and it reminded me that asking "why" is okay.  The best practice goes like this:

Having more than one conflicting call-to-action on a landing page leads to non-decision and hurts conversion rate.

Now, I think that this actually makes a lot of sense.  What I wanted to discover through this experiment is whether or not there could be a scenario where having multiple calls-to-action could actually lead to a greater conversion rate.  The results were quite convincing.


The Experiment

In this experiment we tested two different landing pages that each had differing conversion paths.  The control had a two column layout with a donation form in the left column and copy in the right column.  The treatment was actually exactly the same with one exception: at the bottom of the right column below the copy we added a secondary call-to-action to register your email address to receive a free PDF download.  Now, because the PDF offer required a confirmation page, we decided to add a secondary opportunity to donate with a page layout similar to the control, but with different copy.

Once the control and treatment pages were developed we performed a simple A/B split test and diverted an even 50% of traffic to both versions over the next 30 days.  Once the results were compiled and validated, the control had a donation conversion rate of 2.52%.

The interesting thing is that the treatment, the version of the landing page with two calls-to-action actually had a statistically identical donation conversion rate of 2.51%.  However, the treatment also received a 4.98% name acquisition conversion rate for people that responded to the secondary call-to-action for the free PDF offer.

What was even more interesting is that the people that responded to the PDF offer then converted at a 14.16% donation conversion rate when provided a second opportunity to give.  This means that by adding the secondary call-to-action for the PDF, and adding a secondary opportunity to give, enabled us to create a 25% lift in donation conversion.

What I Learned From This Experiment

There were actually a few different takeaways from this experiment:

  1. Donation conversion is greatly affected by visitor motivation.  This is something that Dr. Flint McGlaughlin and his team at MECLABS talks about with their Conversion Heuristic:

    C = 4m + 3v + 2(i - f) - 2a 

    This expression in plain english goes like this: Conversion equals four times visitor motivation, plus three times clarity of value proposition, plus two times incentive minus friction, minus two times anxiety.  The variable with the highest coefficient is Visitor Motivation.  What this means is that if visitor motivation is high enough, then it can often overcome inhibitors like friction and anxiety.  Clearly when we add a secondary call-to-action to a web site we are adding friction into the process. But because the traffic that was coming to the web site was motivated to give, then it really didn't matter.
  2. Reciprocity is alive in well in the donation conversion process.  Reciprocity is a psychological principle that suggests that when I give you something, in some way you feel indebted to me, and because our natural inclination is to not be in someone's debit we tend to want to settle the score by returning the favor.  When we offered a gift (free pdf) to the visitors to the site, they were more predisposed to return the favor (donating to the organization) after receiving the gift.
  3. Best practices are not enough.  If you really want to maximize your revenue by optimizing your web pages, then relying on long-held best practices is not enough-- you need to be willing to challenge best practices and even conventional wisdom  by constantly testing within a rigorous methodology.  Science trumps the marketer's intuition every day of the week.  Remember what Dr. Flint McGlaughlin says, "Best practices are nothing but polled ignorance."

Happy Experimenting!